Frontier Airlines Lowers Change Fees
Add Frontier to the very short list of U.S. airlines that are trying not to gouge you to the maximum with fees. It dropped the fee to exchange a nonrefundable fare from
The most outrageous of all is the exchange fee. Typically, the cheapest airline tickets you can buy are nonrefundable. So when you buy a nonrefundable ticket but later have to cancel a flight, you won't get your money back from any line. After all, that's what "nonrefundable" means. But with most U.S. and Canadian lines, you can retain the cash value of the ticket -- less, in most cases, an exchange fee. Those fees vary greatly among the airlines:
-- Southwest is alone in imposing no fee -- when you cancel a nonrefundable ticket, you retain the full dollar value as a credit toward a future Southwest flight. It doesn't get any better than that, and Southwest's "no change fee" ad campaign, along with its "no baggage fees" policy, seem to be gaining market share for Southwest. Consumer-friendly sometimes actually pays off in the marketplace.
-- JetBlue and Spirit charge
Exchange fees are the most onerous and unfair of all airline fees. They are certainly not based on cost; I suspect an online exchange would cost pennies -- maybe a few dollars, tops. Instead, the fees are set at penalty levels, designed either to fleece you when you have to change plans or force you into buying higher-priced tickets.
When first introduced, exchange fees were reasonable: usually
Probably the next most onerous fees are for checked baggage. Here, two lines reign supreme: Southwest with two bags at no charge, JetBlue with one. And according to SmarterTravel's "Ultimate Guide to Airline Fees,"
An extra fee for more legroom is not "onerous" in the same way others are, but the best deals are on the three lines that actually have separate extra-legroom cabins: Frontier (
Other fees are generally either (1) trivial or (2) apply only infrequently. Paying extra for a small snack or a pillow may seem like a nuisance, but at least those extras don't cost much.
Presumably, when you buy a cheap ticket, you fully intend to use it. But stuff happens -- you sometimes find it either convenient or necessary to cancel. Clearly, you want to avoid the worst fees if you possibly can. Fortunately, you can avoid the two worst fees -- exchange and baggage -- by flying Southwest, where you can usually find good fares as well. To avoid a baggage fee, fly JetBlue, which also puts you in the best coach cabin available. The other small lines also do reasonably well. But to minimize your fee exposure, avoid the giants.
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